Delay seen for RIM’s new BlackBerry

Research in Motion (RIMM) is facing a delay with the introduction of its new hotly anticipated 3G BlackBerry phone for AT&T (ATT).

The release of the phone, apparently named Meteor, has been pushed to as late as August, from the planned June launch, say people close to the companies. The reason for the delay isn’t clear, but people close to the companies say AT&T had concerns about call quality.

Some of these people speculate however that AT&T may be using a tech glitch as an excuse to avoid having two competing 3G smartphones launch at the same time. Apple’s (AAPL) new iPhone is expected to debut in June, and analysts have speculated that the release will likely coincide with the one-year anniversary of the original iPhone, which is June 27.

AT&T declined to comment. A RIM spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the company does not discuss unannounced products or comment on “rumors and speculation.”

The delay of the new BlackBerry comes at a particularly sensitive time for RIM. As product cycles and phone fashions go, the current crop of BlackBerries – the Curve, the Pearl, etc. – are due for a refresh as demand slows. Among the big things expected from RIM was the first 3G version of BlackBerry, being called Meteor or the 8900. It is a black phone with a silver metal edge, curved corners and a flatter Qwerty keyboard than the namesake bumpy berry-skin keypad.

A new product delay from June to August would mean fewer phone shipments and lower subscriber growth than some may be expecting in the company’s fiscal second quarter ending Aug. 30.

AT&T and Verizon (VZ) represent about 40% of RIM’s new subscriber growth, according to an estimate by TD Newcrest analyst Chris Umiastowski, who recently cut his fiscal first-quarter subscriber estimates for RIM based on expectations of slower sales. Umiastowski now expects full-year RIM subscriber gains of 10.4 million, down from a 11.5 million prior forecast.

Umiamstowski has not based his estimates on RIM’s 3G phone introductions.

RIM is also expected to introduce a touch-screen 3G BlackBerry 9000 later in the year that is aimed directly at the iPhone.

News source: Fortune at CNN Money.com

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